A new island home

Not content to be winter’s plainer cousin, autumn was showing her beauty in Helsinki today with blue skies and earthy colours.

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We enjoyed her show on the island of Seurasaari.  Connected to the mainland by a footbridge, this open-air museum is home to buildings from around Finland from across the ages.

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We’ve been at Christmas and at Midsummer but hadn’t yet visited at this time of year.

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Even though most the buildings are now closed for winter it is still worth a visit for a walk and a picnic and the trails are popular with joggers.

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We enjoyed walking around and choosing which house we would live in (as long as it has good insulation).

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Despite having been before, we found new things to enjoy, including signs of Finnish ingenuity from time gone by.

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Autumn was all around us and as always, nature was left untamed and free to grow.

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We were soon joined by the island’s residents, who I assume are starting to squirrel away stores for the Nordic winter.

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Autumn showed us that she is no shrinking violet – and her display will only get stronger between now and November.

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And we finally found the house we might like to live in – or at least have as our summer home.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Midsummer ( Juhannus ) is one of the biggest events on the Finnish calendar and is celebrated on the Saturday after June 19. With the biggest events happening on Midsummer’s Eve, we set off to the island of Seurasaari for some traditional Finnish celebrations.

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We’ve had a lot of rain this week, but the sun was out and the island is looking beautiful, covered in wildflowers and green.

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We love how the landscape here is left untamed and unshaped over summer, just left free to do its own thing.

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There was quite an extensive program on, with traditional crafts, singing, storytellers and puppet shows set up around the island.

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At one place you could make your own head wreath, choosing flowers from baskets of wildflowers.

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We stopped for a while in a clearing and the boys had turns on stilts while I went for a ride on a horse-drawn cart.

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Next we went down to the main events area and had our picnic dinner and wine. There was a flag procession and singing and Jonathan got drawn into dancing a Finnish folk dance, much to his discomfort and our immense delight.

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We soon followed Jonathan and his band of merry dancers down to the beach for the lighting of the first of the bonfires.

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Midsummer bonfires are called kokko, which is also the name of a mythical bird of iron and fire from Finnish folklore, similar to a phoenix.

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Despite the appearance that the sun was still rising in the sky, it was soon time for us to head off and get Miko to bed.

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For those who stayed there was music and dancing until 1 am and more bonfires lit beneath the midnight sun.

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Seurasaari is an open air museum and home to examples of Finnish architecture from across the ages and country. My parents are visiting from New Zealand and enjoyed checking out the different buildings on our way back to the bus.

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You can tell by our clothing that it wasn’t a particularly warm night on Friday, with the temperature hitting a high of just 14 degrees. That was 14 degrees warmer than last year however, so in comparison it really was a Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Walking through a winter wonderland

There are so many new traditions for us here in Finland, especially around Christmas time. On Sunday we headed over to Seurasaari for our first Christmas path.

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2.30pm Helsinki – just before sunset

Seurasaari is an island connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge. We caught a bus there full of families, babies in strollers, children and dogs. We squashed in together and there was a feeling of excitement in the air.

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The bridge was decorated and there was a tree where children could hang homemade decorations. I’m not sure of the significance of these bundles of wheat but they seem to be popular at Christmas time and Saint Lucia holds one in her arms.

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Seurasaari is an open air museum that features buildings in original styles from around Finland. You can wander the island for free or pay to enter different museum exhibits.

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Upon arrival we were greeted by women handing out maps and Christmas cards and there was also a group of carollers.

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The Christmas path followed the main walking track around the island with special events dotted along the way amongst the old buildings.

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Before long we came across a group of forest animals handing out piparkakut (ginger biscuits) to the children.

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Back off dad – kids only

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Soon we came across a sign pointing the way to ‘Lasten puuro’ (children’s porridge).

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I’d read on the website to bring a bowl and spoon and so we lined up like Oliver Twist and Miko was spooned out a share. We joined other families at long tables set with milk and cinnamon mixed with sugar.

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With warm bellies full of rice porridge we set off again and came across a row of buildings bedecked with ginger-bread. Check out the foundations on these houses.

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Look at foundations on these buildings!

The path was decorated all the way around the island with handmade crafts and traditional Finnish pieces. Colourful scarves were tied around tree trunks to show the way.

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 By 3.30pm the light was beginning to fade but lights and candles brightened the gloom.

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Around the next corner we came across a large group of people singing Christmas carols. There was also a large area where people could burn candles.

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Many Finns will visit the cemetery on Christmas morning to light candles just like these on the graves of loved ones.

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Along we walked until we came to a clearing with stalls selling glöggi (mulled wine) and a woman leading children in traditional songs and dances. Best of all was the chance to see Joulupukki (Santa Claus) and his wife – and despite the amount of people – no queue!

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After staying for a while and enjoying the moment we walked on as the sun had dropped quite low and taken the temperature with it.

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We walked through a maze made out of hay bales, but the best was yet to come! We came across a field full of people cooking over fires. We were handed a stick with damper on and found our cooking spot.

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It’s a Christmas miracle that Jonny’s hair did not catch alight

It was soon time to leave and make our way home. We had one of those amazing experiences where, despite the large crowds, a bus pulled up just as we arrived at the bus stop and we managed to get a seat.

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This was a free event and one we all really enjoyed. I would highly recommend it if you’re in Helsinki this time next year.

We will be celebrating Christmas on the 24th December here in Finland. I send a heartfelt thanks to everyone who has read my blog this year, commented, added information and advice. As well as staying in touch with friends & family back home I’ve had the wonderful pleasure of meeting some great Finnish people through my blog and I’m very grateful for these new friends and how they love to show us Finnish life, often inviting us to places & events they know we’ve never seen before.

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I get a few emails from people travelling to Helsinki and have been asked by a teacher if she can share my stories with her Russian students. I also love hearing from people who have lived here and like to share memories about their life in Finland. I’ve even been contacted by a doctor in Israel asking where to buy ice skates in Helsinki! Thank you for all your input.

Wishing you all a very Hyvää Joulua!

xx